I review 3 book for Tribune now available in all good newsagents
The Passage to Europe. How A Continent Became a Union by Luuk van Middelaar, Yale University Press, £25
Murdoch’s Politics. How One Man’s Thirst for Power and Shapes the World, by David McKnight, Pluto, £12.99
Oranges. A Global History by Clarissa Hyman, Reaktion Books, £9.99
Here are three excellent books all dealing with the Europe conundrum that consumes our daily media. Europe has never been a question of our identity but rather of interest. For most of the post-1945 era, Europe outperformed Britain in terms of economic growth. The balance of power was maintained by Nato, not the Royal Navy. But from Macmillan to Thatcher, British leaders understood that being in Europe added value.
This is no longer the case. Luuk Van Middelaar has written by far the best, accessible, thoughtful account of Europe as was and is and as he hopes will be that we have seen in years. Written first in Dutch and then into French and now English this is a profound narrative of European politics and at the same time a philosophical discussion of what Europe means. For that reason it will not be read by our political elites. Half of them want out off Europe. The other half imitate the 3 Wise Monkeys and see, speak and hear no Europe.
In 1990, the Government spent £25 million on its ‘Are EU Ready’ campaign to educate business and citizens about the single market. Today, our off-shore owned press spent that every month in wall2wall anti-EU coverage. Sir Simon Jenkins, the doyen of the smarter Europhobe writers writing in in the Guardian recently put all the blame for EU unpopularity on the Euro. Yet latest opinion polls show three out of five Greeks wanting to keep the Euro. Luckily we have a control on Eurozone problems namely the United Kingdom. The rest of Europe sees a Britain outside the Euro, Schengen and on the point of leaving Europe. Yet here we have economic misery, a devalued pound unable to boost exports, increasing poverty and regional disparities, destructive attacks on public services, and the growth of populist, xenophobic politics. Youth unemployment in Sweden is at 28 % so not using the Euro appears not to be a panacea. The clumsy, crude approach by the EU’s dominant centre right ruling elite which controls the Commission, Council of Ministers and Parliament needs to change but Balkanizing Europe is not the answer.
However if the doyen of our off-shore press owners gets his way Britain will be the first big nation to leave Europe. David McKnight is an Australian left intellectual. He has written a really good accessible book about Citizen Murdoch. What drives him is political influence. When Rupert first came to England and bought the News of the World he was courted by Harold Wilson. In 1970, the Sun supported Labour just as it did when Tony Blair emerged as a winner and just as it didn’t when it was clear Gordon Brown was a loser. Murdoch likes inside influence and access. The best way to treat him would be Prince Hall on becoming Henry V and telling the blustering, braggart Falstaff, ‘I know thee not, old man.’ But Murdoch turns the strongest political beast into a crawler.
Murdoch does not know who will win the 2015 election but he does know that Ed Miliband delivered a dagger thrust to his modus operandi when Miliband called time on the Murdoch editors like Rebekkah Brooks and Andy Coulson. But the Murdoch snake was scotched not killed. It is preparing like a cobra from the deep to strike back. The chosen terrain is Europe and Murdoch will do all to boost UKIP and to get Britain out of the EU. His daily and Sunday tabloids as well as the Times and Sunday Times are lining up in a fight to the death to get us out of Europe. That will be Murdoch’s final revenge and final homage to his heroine Margaret Thatcher.
Meanwhile let us eat fruit. As someone who cannot begin a day without eating a quartered orange, surely the most versatile and varied fruit in the world, and long Europe’s favourite, Clarissa Hyman’s delightful book is a perfect read. Oranges are globalization’s first commodity producing beautiful still life art as well as the orange box posters from Florida and California or the decorated tissue paper wrappings of single oranges.
‘Oranges and lemons’ we used to sing until the chopper came to chop of our heads. In medieval times, the dead person was buried with an orange to keep him company to the other world. As we prepare to leave Europe for the brave new world that Nigels Lawson and Farage, Rupert Murdoch and the ghost of Thatcher are taking us to, let’s make sure we have a supply of fresh oranges with us. Not the chemicalised, pasteurized, frozen, reconstituted orange juice which, unless you see squeezed in front of you, avoid. In fact, there should be an EU directive against fake orange juice. Maybe Britain outside Europe will do the decent thing and insist on freshly squeezed OJ only.